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Push off, pandemic - we're back.

Kiwis have shaken off weeks of restrictions, hardship and loss to embrace our first holiday weekend under the relative freedoms of alert level 2.

It's Queen's Birthday long weekend, the start of winter and, predictably, less than stellar weather.

Wet weather will stick around all weekend for most of the North Island, and heavy rain watches are in place from tomorrow afternoon until early Monday in Northland, north Auckland and Coromandel, according to MetService.

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It'll be dreary and wet in much of the North Island this Queen's Birthday Weekend, but the South Island will enjoy sunshine. Photo / File
It'll be dreary and wet in much of the North Island this Queen's Birthday Weekend, but the South Island will enjoy sunshine. Photo / File

But a pearler is on the way further south. The South Island will be bathed in sunshine most of the weekend.

That's good news for Kiwis ready for a change of scene after seven weeks confined almost entirely to our homes, and then our regions, to stop the spread of Covid-19.

And from last night, up we went - nearly 400 flights were scheduled in and out of Auckland's domestic and international airports for the weekend.

The number was well down on pre-pandemic Queen's Birthday weekends, when our busiest airport would normally cater to up to 1200 domestic and 600 international flights, airport general manager of operations Anna Cassels-Brown said.

But travellers' confidence was encouraging, she said, the same day Kiwis learned there remained just one active case of Covid-19 within our closed borders.

Kiwis started booking domestic trips as soon as level 2 was announced this month - packages at Flight Centre NZ have jumped 124 per cent.

"From the high number of inquiries already, it's clear Kiwis are eager to explore New Zealand and tick off bucket-list trips while having New Zealand all to themselves," general manager of marketing Jodie Burnard said.

Air New Zealand's first flight into Queenstown under level 2 landed on May 16. Photo / James Allan
Air New Zealand's first flight into Queenstown under level 2 landed on May 16. Photo / James Allan

The prospect of a few winter puddles also wasn't enough to deter thousands escaping our cities by land.

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Aucklander Ben Gibson was among those driving out of Auckland yesterday, bound for the peaceful shores of Northland's Whananaki.

Traffic was bumper to bumper on State Highway 1 through the Johnstones Hill twin tunnels near Puhoi, and again at Warkworth, Wellsford and south of Whāngārei, Gibson said.

But the sight of clogged roads was also that thing we've all been craving since a new virus upended our lives.

"It isn't terrible, just a typical day with traffic," Gibson said.

There was also congestion at other usual peak SH1 spots - central and South Auckland, and between Waikanae Beach and Levin, north of Wellington. A crash at Māngere Bridge critically injured one and caused delays on SH20 last night.

It was a slow journey north for those driving out of Auckland yesterday afternoon. This photo was taken on State Highway 1 at Johnstone's Hill tunnels near Puhoi. Photo / Ben Gibson
It was a slow journey north for those driving out of Auckland yesterday afternoon. This photo was taken on State Highway 1 at Johnstone's Hill tunnels near Puhoi. Photo / Ben Gibson

Kiwis have jumped back into domestic travel faster than anywhere else in the world, according to analysts AirDNA, which said New Zealand Airbnb and other short-term rentals bookings were last week 465 per cent higher than just after the country entered level 4 lockdown.

That compared to a 367 per cent jump in bookings in Germany in the same period and rises of around 200 per cent in the US, France and Australia.

In Queenstown bookings were up a whopping 960 per cent, to 1177, last week. Wellington was up 688 per cent, putting the two Kiwi destinations first and third in the multi-national survey.

Accommodation providers around the country also spoke of full bookings, including James Cunningham, of King and Queen Hotel Suites in New Plymouth.

"We're fully booked Friday, Saturday and Sunday."

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Retail NZ boss Greg Harford said retailers were hoping people would spend some money this weekend. Spending in the past week was 10 per cent down on pre-Covid times.

With borders closed to foreigners and non-residents, most might expect not to see overseas tourists on their domestic travels but just over 50,000 tourists have opted to stay on after lockdown, according to Immigration New Zealand.

The number's 20,000 fewer than the same time last year.

Among those staying put for now are US couple Brooke and Buddy, who travel fulltime and were warned by friends not to come home. More than 100,000 have died of Covid-19 as the virus rages out of control in the US.

"We've realised how lucky we are to be in New Zealand during all of this," Brooke said.

"The whole world has looked at [New Zealand] as probably the best place you could be."